Saturday, November 21, 2015

Last days of our trip

On Thursday, November 19, I collected my last pass port stamp for this trip. We left I-10 north of Tucson and took AZ70 and 79 to Coolidge AZ where Casa Grande Ruins National Monument is located. This is a place sacred to several tribes of Native Americans who trace their ancestry to the Ancestral People of the Sonoran Desert (sometimes called the Hohokam). They lived and thrived farming in this part of the desert by building irrigation canals from the three major rivers in the area. They grew to a large population and built many villages with walls and buildings of caliche (a concrete like mixture of sand, clay, and limestone). Casa Grande is a 4 story building built towards the end of their era. It is still standing in its ruined condition, but that attests to its original brilliant construction. No one knows why the population disbursed in the mid 1400’s, but these ruins tell much of their story.
Don at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

One interesting thing is that we noticed cotton fields as we were driving to Coolidge. There were also irrigation canals. And it turns out that one of the major crops from the early Indians was cotton – so almost 600 years later, not much has changed!

We then chose to drive the belt line around Phoenix, which was not quite as straight forward as it looked on the map. However, we saw some new territory on the outskirts of Phoenix and eventually got back to Buckeye to spend the night.

And here we are on Friday the 20th staying in Palm Desert. We spent most of the day driving here, stopping for potty breaks and a little shopping. The desert here is not nearly as beautiful as that further east and south, being mostly rocks, sand, and barren hills. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Las Cruces NM on Nov. 18

On Wednesday, November 18 we were still in Las Cruces NM. We wanted to visit the Art Museum, but it didn’t open until 10. We found a street fair just down the street from the Branigan Cultural Center which houses several museums including the Art Museum. So we spent some time looking at the handmade items for sale at the fair. I bought a rock that was found in the desert for $3!

The Art Museum was small. They had an exhibit of photographs by Paul Outerbridge. He was a pioneer in the development of color photography. He was ahead of his time and did not find much interest in his photographs as objects of art until the mid 50’s. He died fairly young of lung cancer.

The Cultural Center had an exhibit on Dia de los Muertos – the Mexican celebration of the Day of the Dead (November 1). I love all the iconography associated with that holiday and really enjoyed looking at all the interesting and funny depictions of death and family in the exhibit. We did not look at the Nature Museum or the Railroad Museum which are also associated with the Cultural Center. We will save that for next time. It was all free and the parking is plentiful and free. What a lovely welcome to visitors.

We spent the night in Benson AZ.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Back to Las Cruces

In El Paso we had to buy two more batteries for the camper (we have 3 altogether). On Tuesday, November 17, we visited the Chamizal National Memorial in the middle of El Paso. This was built in the early 70’s to commemorate the treaty signed between Mexico and the US establishing the border. Formerly the Rio Grande was the border. However, since it kept moving after the original treaty was signed in the mid 1800’s (part of the Gadsden Purchase), there were many disputed areas. One was this area. The agreement involved putting the River in a concrete channel (no more moving for that river!) and dividing the disputed area between Mexico and the US. Of course, many of the people living there had to move to be on the right side of the border (reminds me of what we did to the Native Americans). But it did solve the problem. Chamizal was part of this area so the US established the Memorial as a place of peace and celebration of the two cultures. Pretty wonderful in my mind!
Suzanne at Chamizal National Memorial

Minor Basilica of San Alban
From there we headed back to Las Cruces NM. We visited Mesilla, which is just before Las Cruces. This is another interesting village worth a visit. It is one of the oldest communities in New Mexico. It was originally part of Mexico and was an important stop on the trade routes. It was never very wealthy so most of the homes are small, thick walled adobe construction. The main square has a bandstand and is surrounded by very old one story buildings. Billy the Kid used to rendezvous here and the court house where he was sentenced to hang is still here (I believe he escaped this one). The Minor Basilica of San Alban is at one end of the square. It is a lovely, quiet place to rest. We also spent time in the shops which featured Indian jewelry, local pecans, Southwest pottery and clothing.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Monday, November 16, 2015 scenic drive

On Monday, November 16 we again left I-10 to take a scenic drive in the Davis Mountains. Our first stop was in Ft. Davis an old town with some interesting old buildings including the Davis County Court House. The town grew up around Ft. Davis built in the mid 1800’s to control the Indians. It was named after Jefferson Davis, later to become president of the Confederacy during the Civil War. This is now a National Historic site, so I had to stop to get my passport stamped and look around. I guess forts do not interest us that much, but it has been very nicely restored and really gives you a good idea of how things were for the people who lived at that time.

Suzanne at Ft. Davis 
From there we drove to McDonald Observatory. It was quite a climb to the visitor center. We decided not to take the guided tour, but just drove ourselves up to look at one of the telescopes, the Hobby – Ebberly Telescope (HET). It is built of hexagonal mirrors which can be individually moved to collect the maximum amount of light. It is mainly used to collect light for spectroscopy information and much has been learned about space objects using this technique.
HET at McDonald Observatory

From there we looped around the rest of the scenic drive, through the wooded countryside and ended up back on I-10 headed for El Paso. Fall seems to have come late to this part of the country. The trees were just turning color and they were all yellow. We did not see any red leaves, but the yellow trees were just beautiful.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Last thoughts on Big Bend National Park

Sunday, November 15, we decided it was time to leave the park. Yesterday we had looked at the last scenic spot on this road, Santa Elena Canyon. We were at the Rio Grande again and the river runs at the base of a very tall, rugged mountain range in Mexico. It comes down a very narrow canyon, the Santa Elena Canyon, which has become a favorite with adventurers floating on the river. We parked at an overlook and watched for awhile. There was no one boating but the view was beautiful.

Anyway, today was spent retracing our path out to the main park road and the west entrance to the park. We ended up on TX 118 which took us back to Alpine where we had a maintenance day at the campground.

I have talked about the geography of the park, but not much about the wildlife. Don saw a family of javelinas in one of the campgrounds. Mickey flushed out some rabbits in another. We saw an owl high up in a tree at dusk on our last night. There were lots of roadrunners and they are much bigger than I thought they would be. We saw many other birds and a few deer.

Even though the park is in the desert, there were many different plants. The vegetation is very dependent on the elevation. We saw lots of tiny wildflowers – blue, pink, and yellow - because of the recent rain. In many places the sides of the road were covered with yellow flowers (several different kinds, I think). I was never able to figure out the difference between the sotol plant, the giant dagger yucca, and the lechuguilla (perhaps my gardener daughter-in-law can help me). There were many kinds of cactus – ocotillo and prickly pear were the most predominant. A lot of the prickly pear looked like they had been run over and we found out the fruit was a favorite of the javelinas!
Ross Maxwsell Scenic Drive

Monday, November 16, 2015

Last day in Big Bend National Park

Saturday, November 14 was our last full day in the park. We had driven on all the paved roads except those to the south and west so headed west to Castolon. We had already decided to avoid most dirt roads (the one we took was pretty bad).

The road to Castolon is called Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive after an early park manager and it truly was scenic. It was raining lightly off and on, but that didn’t prevent us from stopping at all the overlooks and reading all the exhibit signs. This is the area where you can see the most evidence of the volcanic activity that formed the park. There were dikes, which are raised ridges where lava had flowed underground, solidified, and the surrounding dirt eroded away. There were light patches of rock which was solidified ash, called tuff, that has been exposed by erosion. We learned about a pouroff which is a name for the end of a box canyon where there is a large overflow of water during a heavy rain (I guess it doesn’t qualify to be called a waterfall). The mountains and hills showed all the layering associated with several lava flows and consequent erosion and faulting. We saw all colors – red, does that mean iron?; yellow – does that mean quicksilver?; black – probably lava flow, white – the ash turned to rock, and many shades in between. We walked to the edge of Tuff Canyon and looked down into a deep wash formed when water rushed down and washed away all the dirt between walls of harder volcanic rock. The shapes and colors were beautiful.

We ended up in Castolon which is really just a collection of historic buildings. It was originally established as an Army post and then a trading post. The barracks have been turned into the Park Visitor Center and a store. Cottonwood Campground is just past there, so we went to get a camping spot. We were surprised to find it almost full (so was the Ranger - he said it only got full on holidays). So, we picked a spot and settled in to spend the rest of a rainy day relaxing in our camper.